Seth Wenig / AP
E-cigarette manufacturer Juul Labs announced on Thursday that it will halt sales of most of its flavored products, including mangoes, fruits and cucumbers. These types of flavors are considered an on-ramp for vaping for teens.
The move comes when the industry is facing enormous scrutiny. Several states have banned flavored products, and the Trump administration has signaled that a federal ban may be in the works.
Juul Lab's new CEO K.C. Crosthwaite said the company is focused on "earning community trust" and working to "combat underage use while providing an alternative to adult smokers," according to a company release announcing the change.
At a time when 25% of high school seniors surveyed in the United States say they have been swimming over the last 30 days, the company is also under pressure to limit marketing and advertising for youth.
Juul's grip on tasting comes the same day as a small non-profit group, the Center for Environmental Health, announced a legally binding agreement on its lawsuit with the company that will restrict Juul's marketing to children and teens in specific ways.
For example, Juul cannot advertise at sporting events or concerts that allow people under the age of 21. The company cannot pay for or allow its employees to appear at schools. And the company can't use models in its ads that are under 28 years old.
In a statement to NPR, a Juul spokesman wrote "we agree that no youth should use JUUL products and we are committed to combating underage use." goes on to say that this "statement confirms the voluntary marketing practices that JUUL Labs has in place."
The company says it is not being marketed to youth. "Our products exist solely to help adult smokers find an alternative to combustible cigarettes," the spokesman concludes.
But the director of the Center for Environmental Health, Michael Green, says the settlement can help hold Juul accountable.
"We don't trust them, we believe their entire model is based on the dependence of a new generation of young people," says Green. "The fact that lawful [the agreement is] means we're going to follow them very closely – and if they violate it by an inch, we can go back to court and we can force them to stop."
The settlement is enforceable only in California – and only for a limited time. Public health experts say it's a step in the right direction, but more action from federal regulators is needed to curb the epidemic of youth gun violence.
"The tobacco industry has a long history of making high public statements and then not following up," said Paul Billings, senior vice president of advocacy at the American Lung Association.
Billings states that the federal government must remove flavored e-cigarette products from the market. And he says the Food and Drug Administration, the agency that has the authority, must act. "The FDA has been dragging its feet for more than a decade," says Billings. "It's time for the FDA to enforce the law to oversee e-cigarette products."
As concern about vaping-related lung diseases has grown this year, there is renewed focus on the broader epidemic of youth vaping. And many Americans seem to be in favor of federal action – according to the results of a new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
"When it comes to banning the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, 52 percent [of respondents] supported a ban," said Liz Hamel, director of public opinion and survey research at KFF. The survey also found that about half of those also asked supports a ban on the sale of all e-cigarettes.
Some advocates who smoke smoke say that Juul's voluntary suspension of flavoring can have minimal impact, given that the company plans to continue selling coin and menthol flavored e-cigarettes.
Robin Koval, president and president of the Truth Initiative, said in a statement that mint and menthol – which Juul still plans to sell – are among the most popular flavors for youth. "We also know, as the tobacco industry does, that menthol has been and continues to be the starting point you want for young cigarette users, "she added.
In a statement, Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor and philanthropist in New York, called, Juul's move to suspend flavors "too little and too late."
Bloomberg Philanthropies launched the "Protect Kids: Fight Flavored E-Cigarettes" initiative last month. "Juul's decision to keep mints and menthol flavors on the shelves is a page straight out of the tobacco industry's playbook," Bloomberg said.
There is evidence that gunfire has hooked millions of teenagers on nicotine, a highly addictive compound that can be harmful to the teenager's brain.
And there is some evidence that teenagers become addicted to nicotine faster by gunfire than by smoking cigarettes. Stan Glantz, professor of medicine at U.C. San Franciso, who has studied tobacco, says one reason could be the use of nicotine salts in the latest generation of vaping products. "It allows kids to inhale a much higher dose of nicotine per puff," says Glantz.
And this can make it harder to kick the habit.